Pack Horse - Stage Lines
and the Camel Express!


Mr. Ed. Payne, Salem post office clerk, stamp and cover collector furnished the names of thefollowing Express companies in Oregon between 1850 and 1860, whose Franked covers are wantedby collectors: Buchanan & Co.; Brent & Nelson; Edgar's Canyon City Express; Enright's BoiseExpress; Jones Express and Jones & Edgars; C.M. Lockwood Express; Ish & Bailey; McBeans GraniteCreek Express; Rundall & Co.; Rundell & Jones; Stoner & Scott and Wells Fargo. Some of theseoperated in Eastern Oregon then a part of old Wasco County. There was also Edgar & Burke;Greathouse & Co.; Ish & Carr; Military Letter Exp.; Northern Pacific Express; Pacific Stage Co.;Shepherd & Cooper; Scofield & Co.; Wilson & Co. The names of these last 9 companies was suppliedby Art Ferrel, R. 4, Boise, Idaho another collector.


The early pack trains, saddle trains, pony express, camel express etc. existed prior to thebuilding of roads into the mining areas of old Wasco county. Roads fit to operate stages andfreight wagons over with any degree of safety and dependability didn't seem to appear muchbefore 1864; so we can safely credit the period from 1851 to 1864 as the Pony Express and PackTrain period in early Wasco County history. The pack and saddle trains came first. Theycontained anywhere up to 50 horses or mules. The pack trains carried the freight to the minesafter river boats brought it as far up the Columbia as the "taking off point" required. A goodpack animal could easily carry up to 200 pounds of food, flour, feed or freight items,tied and bound to their saddles; and such an animal was worth up to $500. The saddle trainscarried the passengers or miners who didn't want to walk all the way to the mines. Miners soonfound out, after the boat got into The Dalles, how long it would be until the next pack trainwas leaving for the gold fields and reserve a horse. They furnished their own blankets andslept out under the stars paying only for food and transportation. The first night out from The Dalles was generally spent at Fairbanks, on 15 mile creek, where they ate supper, washedclothes, bathed and turned the horses out to good green feed. Most, (not all) of the saddletrains were operated by Mexicans and their senoritas. The Mexicans pitched tents, unloaded thepack horses, russeled the fire wood while their senoritas did the cooking, washed the dishes,played music at night. These colorful ladies wore pants like their Mexican husbands, calf skinboots and Mexican sombreros; bargained with settlers for fresh food, milk or eggs which theypaid for with gold dust or Mexican gold coins. It is interesting to note that there were enoughMexicans in The Dalles during that period of time to hold Sunday Bull Fights in an arena on thesoutheast corner of 4th and Liberty, where Elmer Bettingin's father Al used to watch them.


It was in the fall of 1862 that Thomas H. Brents of Walla Walla established his famous Pony Expressrun from The Dalles to Canyon City. There were no ferries in those days across the John Day, Deschutesand other streams between here and Canyon City and bridges were unheard-of. The whole country betweenThe Dalles and Canyon City was infested with hostile Indians, outlaws who especially sought expressmanas their victims. Mr. Brents tells about one of these trips to The Dales when they arrived at a cross-ing of the John Day after dark and seeing a campfire rode into the camp to get permission to camp withthem for the night to have further protection from Indian raiders. Imagine to our surprise when we lookedinto the fact of Berry Way, the most dreaded outlaw of the west, who, with his wife and a man, hadmurdered a man on the Ochoco. The bandits welcomed the express messenger and asked if he carried muchtreasure? The messenger threw off the treasure sack carelessly to the ground and said, "No, its onlymule shoes this time for a big pack train just down the river, coming in;" and he never touched thetreasure sack again until morning. That night our expressman pretended to sleep but he lay all night inhis blankets with revolvers in hand and the bandits allowed him to ride off in the morning! Berry Waywas arrested soon after and hanged by vigilantes near Canyon City. On another night Brents outran aband of 4 outlaws who were led by the notorious Romaine. In 10 hours he travelled 112 miles! Mr. Brentwas later County Clerk of Grant county and in 1868 married his school chum sweetheart Belle McGowan,later returning to Walla Walla where in 1878 he was congressman helping to make Washington a state.(Story by Rev. G.W. Kennedy of Walla Walla).

Judge Thomas Brenz (1896) of the Walla Walla superior court, who celebrated his 70th birthday, foundedthe Pony Express between Canyon City and The Dalles in 1862. He charged 50 cents for letters and 3% forcarrying treasure (gold dust) over the 225 mile route to The Dalles, packed by "road agents" (thieves) andbandits. The judge was born at Florence, Ill. (1840) came to Oregon in 1852. President Abraham Lincoln appointed him postmaster at Canyon City and he was a legislator. (WPA clippings by L.S. Fritz; State Library).The Oregon Guide said, "There were 10,000 miners digging gold at Canyon City in 1862. The Pony Expressgalloped in 3 times a week from The Dalles 225 miles across desert, rivers, mountainsand passing lurking Indians and bandits." The Dalles and Canyon City in 1862 were the two largest cities in the Pacific northwest. As the mines gave out Canyon City population faded away but The Dalles populationcontinued to make it the largest city in the northwest until about 1870 when Portland outgrew us. The pioneerMiner and Mule Packer said, "In 1862 Brent & Nelson bought out Brindle & Jones in this area (Canyon City).Edgar & Burke operate from The Dalles to Canyon City. Rowe & Co. were in this area as was Trach & Co.,and all were operating from The Dalles to Canyon City during the heighth of the Gold Rush." The StampCollectors' Philatelist (in the library of Edw. Payne of Salem) states, "Tracy & Co. operated from the Dalles toCanyon City a Pony Express in 1862 and also operated from The Dalles to Walla Walla on the same dates; and from The Dalles to Boise in 1863. The Dalles Express Co. was also mentioned during this date." The severe winterof 1862 made hay worth 40 cents a pound; grain 50 cents a pound; a mule was worth $250 to $400 and skinnerswages were $100 to $125 a month with keep. Gold dust was legal tender.

It was in the spring of 1862 that Tom Brents and myself (N.F. Nelson of Brownsville) and Henry Hall foundourselves in Walla Walla broke. With 4 other miners we were the first to stake claims at Canyon City thatspring. We made good wages and pretty soon Canyon Creek was well staked with camps at John Day and Canyon City.Tom Brents and I decided to start a Pony Express to The Dalles. I (N.F. Nelson) made the first trip. I startedwith another Express Rider, Enright by name, but I beat him in. I reached The Dalles at 9 A.M. on the 4th of July 1862. That was the first Express trip ever made between Canyon City and The Dalles. Tom Brents and I werepartners for some time. We finally sold out for $1000. I then started a pack train with 19 horses. I hired 2men to help me. On my 2nd trip I took in flour, sugar and some hardware. On the south fork of the John Day theIndians attacked us. John Espy was hit in the first fire and fell from his horse. My horse was shot through thebody. Espy started to rise and a bullet knocked him flat. Ashley and I dismounted and pulled Espy back intothe bushes and returned the Indian fire. We dropped one of them. Our pack train stampeded and the Indians drewoff. Espy had 2 wounds, one bullet struck a rib and ran around under the skin and came out on the other side.He lost a good deal of blood but we fixed him up and with 3 horses left we went on to Canyon City. The Indianscut open the sacks of sugar and flour and threw them away. I sold what little I had left for $400 and went back toThe Dalles where J.D. Robbins staked me to a load of flour. I took it to Eagle Creek and made a good profit.

N.F. Nelson was regarded by some of the people of Brownsville (1920's) as a "nut" because he advocatedthat men ought to LIVE by the Golden Rule! He believed in running the government by love and not force. He believed that women were as smart as men and should have equal rights with men. He wanted to abolishliquor. "Sure", he told Lockley, "I know people think I am a nut because I want to love my fellow manno matter what nationality they might be. Love will supplant greed. We shall live by the Golden Rule."

Brent & Nelson charged 50 cents for letters from Canyon City to The Dalles and 3% for carrying gold dust.The route was 225 miles through deserts, rivers, creeks, over hills, mountains and in all kinds ofweather and with roads infested with Indians and all kinds of bandits. (WPA Clippings by Louis Fritz ofThe Dalles; Archives department, Oregon State Library).


The Stamp Collectors' Philatelist says, "Tracy & Co., operated a Pony Express and mail service fromThe Dalles to Canyon City in 1862." The Oregon Guide stated, "By 1863 the number of miners digginggold at Canyon City had been reduced from 10,000 the previous year to 700 and that the discovery ofgold in other fields practically depopulated Canyon City that winter. The hard winter of 1863 reducedthe Pony Express service to twice a month. The Indians got so bad that a civilien guard company, underNathan Olney of The Dalles, had to round up some of the bad Indians." We quote Louis Fritz of The Dallesagain in the Oregon Writers Project at the Oregon State Library, "In the gold rush days of 1862-64mail was carried on horseback from The Dalles to Canyon City over Indian trails along the John Dayriver. The mail was strapped to the saddles of the daring horseback riders. Postage was 50 cents a letterand the newspapers, they carried sold for $1.00 each. These riders carried thousands of dollars worth ofgold dust. Hostile Indians and bandits imperiled the riders' lives and the narrow escapes and holdupswere not uncommon; but the tradition prevailed, "the the mail must go through"; and the dangers wereaccepted as all of the part of the days work. When the competing Henry H. Wheeler stage coach companyentered the field (1864) war began; and it is reported that the original companies, in a race withtheir compeditor, once travelled to The Dalles, 225 miles, in 28 hours, with only the necessary changesof horses and riders."


In 1922, the 60th anniversary of the discovery of gold in Whiskey Gulch at Canyon City was celebratedby "Pony Express Riders" who re-enacted the old Pony Express ride from The Dalles to Canyon City. Awater spout took place at Antelope which "threw cold water" on the ride, but it went through on a muchslower schedule than the famous 28 hour run of 1864. Horses were changed at Boyd, Nensene, SherarsBridge, Shaniko, Antelope, Burnt Ranch, Mitchell and about every 20 miles from there to Canyon City.

In 1924 the Pony Express ride from Bend to The Dalles was re-enacted "with all the formallity anddignity of the 1860's." There were 5 entries in this race with 35 horses. The relay stations were atPrineville, Willow Creek, Bolter's ranch, Shaniko, Sherars Bridge, Nensene, Boyd and The Dalles. Theriders were Ray Baxter, Sumners Houston, Frank Houston, Jimmy Taylor and Roy Gray. The used standardbred horses. (Note: -the old Pony Express riders used California mustangs and Indian cayuses.)


The History of Grant County says, "Gold was discovered Oct. 18, 1861 on the north fork of the John Day river. The first pack trains from The Dalles to the mines were operated by J.W. Case, J.J. Cozart,and D.N. Luce. They were called "The Knights of Primeaval Transportation." The trail from The Dallesto Canyon City was improved by Dalles merchants (see The Dalles to Boise Military road). They built a road used to bring supplies from The Dalles to Canyon City. Henry H. Wheeler established the firststage route (1864) and ran 4-horse coaches, with 8 changes of horses. His mail contract was for $12,000a year. He also ran Wells Fargo fast Express Coaches, carrying only mail and guards, no passengers."Canyon City in 1863 had 31 business establishments. By Nov. of 1863 the "fall fights" in Canyon Citycommenced to start but discovery of gold in Maulhur county depopulated Canyon City. In Feb. 1864 theOregon Statesman reported no express service on account of bad weather. Miners were paid $5.00 a day.A 23 1/2 oz. gold nugget was found.


Gold was discovered in 1860. I was admitted to the bar before I was 21 so I brought my law bookand 2 six shooters and came out to the gold fields. There was not much gold to be found and nobodywas interested in law, so I became a Pony Express rider and Mail Carrier from Walla Walla toMillersburg, Idaho (1861). I rode early and late and almost lived in the saddle as a Pony Expressrider between Walla Walla and Grangerville, Idaho. A Lapwai Indian and myself followed the Indiantrail across the Craig mountain and Camas Prairie. Idaho in those days was known as E-dah-hoe anIndian word signifying "light on the mountains". I spelled it Idaho in my writings and that may have gave it first use in print. Our service was simple express carrying service with cheapequipment comparing in no way with the costly and elaborate Pony Express from St. Joe to Sacramento.The job was full of hardships, perils, long riding hours, day and night work in all kinds ofweather with desperate as well as good men on the trails. I changed horses from 5 to 10 timesdaily; rode at desperate speeds using Indian ponies only, without any escort. We called ourselvesMossman & Millers Pony Express. The Indians were numerous but we weren't afraid of them, but ofthe whites we were. The Indians were peaceful. We hired them to tend our stations. They were ofthe Nez Perce tribes. The Pony Express did not pay even though we practically LIVED on horseback,with little food and less sleep the first few months!

California emptied her miners, gamblers, robbers and desperadoes right into our mines and roadsthither. The rivers were closed with ice that winter. The Snake being icebound at Lewiston. Theminers wanted to get their money and letters to Walla Walla and to friends and families. The snowwas deep in the Idaho mountains. The trails were drifted full. It was a question of whether anyliving man could face those conditions, make that ride and live to tell about it! They asked theIndians to try. They refused to do so. I started out (1860-61) with letters and $10,000 in goldweighing 50 pounds, to Walla Walla. Dave English and Boone Helm two California desperados followedme with the evident intention of robbing and possibly killing me for the gold I carried. I noted Canada Joe, worst of the killers of the west, far ahead of me up the trail, in the blizzard.

I was able to keep ahead of my pesurers. The problem was to get around Canada Joe. He had 3 sixshooters strapped around him. I knew he would use them. Our horses continued to flounder up themountain. I noted Joe was heading for a blocked off narrow place in the trail to make his standagainst my approach. I couldn't turn back as English and Helm were back there in that blizzard.and couldn't be eluded. I noted ahead, where the trail levelled off, that I was nearing the top ofthe mountain, so I struck out in a new direction. Canada Joe seen this and opened fire on me buthis chillded hands and body were too unsteady. His bullets whizzed about us but we were soon lostin the blizzard and made good time on top of the mountain and down the other side. We eluded ourpersurer and made it safely to Walla Walla. (Junior Historical Journal 1941; State Library, Salem.)


The most spectacular and perilous ride ever undertaken by any Pony Express rider of the PacificNorthwest was made from The Dalles to Fort Benton, Mont in the fall of 1855. The Yakima Indian warhad broke out and the Indians north of the Columbia were killing all the whites. Governor IssacStevens and 24 men were near Fort Benton. The news of the Indian uprising had to be sent to himlest he and his party be wiped out. W.H. Pearson of The Dalles was chosen to make that memorial650 mile Pony Express ride with dispatches from The Dalles to Fort Benton. He rode out of The Dalleswell mounted and all day and all night brought him to Wm. McKay's ranch on the Umatill river. It wasdeserted. He caught a new mount, sprang into the saddle just as blood curdling yells of the savages"Kill that white man, kill that white man" rang in his ears. He tore up the valley, they in hotpersuit, but he out-distanced them and by night he turned off the trail taking a parallel coursesome miles distant. Riding and resting in secluded sports he reached Lapwai mission. After a daysrest he pushed on over the Bitter Root mountains in a blinding snow storm. A tree fell and crushedhis Nez Perce Indian companion. The trail was buried under several feet of snow. Unable to go anyfurther on horse he improvised snowshoes from brush frames and strands from his rawhide lariat;then packing his blankets and dried meat he struggled onward over the snow. After 4 days he came tothe Bitter Root valley near Fort Owen. With rest and a new horse 3 days more brought him to thegovernor's camp on the Teton. He was so faint and exhausted they had to lift him out of the saddlebut he carried out his orders and delivered his messages to Gov. Stevens in one of the most remark-able outstanding Pony Express rides ever recorded in the history of the west. (Junior HistoricalJournal; Oregon State Library; Salem).


A flag designed by Perry Driggs will flutter from the grave of Chas. Becker, Pony Express Riderof 1860-61 on the Wyoming Section of the St. Joe to Sacramento Pony Express run, according toWalter Meacham of the Old Oregon Trail Association. Mr. Becker died at Baker, Oregon in 1925 atage 89. He was buried near Westfall, Malheur county. The flag is white, with a dark blue PonyExpress Rider at full gallop, as the center figure; and diagonal bars of red and blue (with whitein between). Mr. Baker always wore cowboy boots and whenever he went anywhere he carried saddlebags, in the place of a suitcase. He is the only known Pony Express Rider buried in Oregon (whorode on the St. Joe to Sacramento run).


As related in the St. Joe to Sacramento Pony Express article Russel, Majors & Waddell sold theirSt. Joe to Sacramento stagecoach line to Ben Holliday in 1862. In 1864 Ben Holliday bought all newstage coaches from Abbott & Downing and the fastest of livestock and best of drivers was put on this run. He installed cutoffs and let out "side bid contracts" and lengthened his line to Forth Hall,Idaho and to Montana points. His ads of Dec. 03, 1864 proclaimed service from Achison, Kan. to Placer-ville, Calif. and connections with Ft. Hall, Walla Walla, Umatilla and The Dalles. He sub-contractedthe run from Fort Hall to The Dalles via Boise, Baker, Umatilla to John Hailey and Greathouse, whoconsolidated and bought out (1865) the Thomas Express and Stage Co. which gave them a monopoly inaddition to the mail contract. The distance from The Dalles to Salt Lake City over this route wasconsidered to be 1000 miles (it felt like 2000 miles to passengers) and the fare was $240 one way toSalt Lake City and $300 from there to Achison, Kan. A roundtrip stage ticket was worth $1,000. By1866 the service was made daily from The Dalles to Salt Lake City. Ben Holliday was at that timeknown as the "Napoleon of the West." His mail contracts amounted to $800,000 a year, but his expenseswere tremendous. He had to have stage stations every 10 to 12 miles, depending on water and localconditions, with "way stations" every 50 miles where passengers stayed over night. Each station hadto have its tender, hay, horses, corrals, supplies and all these items had to be hauled hundreds ofmiles by teams and wagons. In one year alone he lost $1,500,000 to Indian raiders alone!

By 1866 Ben Holliday got tired of all these losses and problems in connection with the operationsof his vast fleet of stages and horses and freight wagons so he sold out to Wells Fargo for a millionand a half dollars cash and 300,000 shares of Wells Fargo stock, who dominated the transportationfield of the west until the building of the Union Pacific railroad (1869-70) to the junction with theCentral Pacific at Promatory Point. The comming of the railroads illiminated the trans-continentalstage lines and freight wagon lines. The U.P. railroad had its own Union Express Co. but Wells Fargobought this concession (1869) for $5,000,000.

The Dalles to Salt Lake City branch of the Wells Fargo Stage and Express lines dominated thefield for a while but gradually competition entered the field and remained until the extension ofthe Oregon Short Line railroad to Hunington (1884) where it joined with the O.R. & N. Co. Gov. ZenithMoody and other prominent Dalles business men have been agents of Wells Fargo at different times inthe history of The Dalles. (Oregon County by O.B. Winters; Oregon State Library, Salem).

The History of Idaho by Gilbert mentions weekly stage service between Boise and The Dalles byJuly of 1863 on a line operated by Henry Greathouse (sub-contractor of Ben Holliday). Other operatorsmentioned were the Oregon Idaho Stage Co.; Ward & Co. Fare was $100 for 285 miles. Ben Holliday'sOverland Stage Line secured the contract from The Dalles to Salt Lake via Boise (675 miles) and usedConcord coaches in good weather (1864) and regular mud wagons for winter and early spring driving.One of the passengers enroute from Salt Lake to The Dalles remarked, "the Paradise Valley stage stopwas misnamed as it had nothing but snakes and nothing that would indicate any kind of a paradise."Relay stations on The Dalles to Salt Lake run were about 15 miles apart with the interval or waystations for passenger stops every 50 miles. The first stage arrived in Boise Aug. 11, 1864.


In 1868 C.M. Lockwood of The Dalles under bid Wells Fargo and in October of that year he wenton The Dalles to Salt Lake City run in addition to his Dalles to Canyon City and Dalles to WallaWalla runs. He was a big man in the transportation field in The Dalles at that time and madehundreds of thousands of dollars. John Hailey was one of his sub-contractors and manager of partof his Salt Lake lines. Lockwood's contract was for 21 months and during that time he worked dayand night; in fact he worked himself into paralyzed physical condition until we see in 1869 thatJohn Hailey was given part of the contract and in July 1870 the line was sold to the NorthwestStage Co. who operated it until 1874 when the Boise and Rocky Bar line took over John Hailey handeledthe contract for the Northwest Stage Co. This would indicate that John Hailey was a very ableand outstanding man in the transportation field at that time. (Art Ferrel, R.4, Boise, Idaho).

Obituary in Times-Mountaineer of The Dalles, Feb. 1873 on C.M. Lockwood

C.M. Lockwood of The Dalles died of paryalisis at Detroit, Mich. He was a man of great energyand determination. In 1863 he started freighting between The Dalles and Canyon City with a team ofcattle. In a few years he monopolized all the freighting business. In 1866-67 he, with Teal andGoldsmith, took large government contracts and made much money. He contracted for the mails andstages from Salt Lake City to The Dalles, 800 miles, and made several hundred thousand dollars,but in doing so he wore himself out, as he was only 38 at the time of his death. He was a finegentelman, respected by all. He leaves a widow and 2 children (Ludy did the following July).


Kelton, Utah became the terminus for the Oregon, Idaho, Utah Stage Co. (1869-1884) which was acloser point on the Union Pacific railroad than Salt Lake. Mail service from the east was reducedfrom 23 days via boats to Calif. and Astoria to 14 days by rail and stage from Kelton to The Dalles,according to the Times-Mountaineer of The dalles. The Mountaineer of Dec. 14, 1866 said the first mailfrom Salt Lake City was carried in buggies on a weekly schedule and that Ben Holliday's contract wasby boat from Portland to The Dalles (sub-contracted) and sub-contracted from The Dalles to Boise toJohn Hailey for $80,000 a year. There were other lines running from Umatilla to Salt Lake and fromWalla Walla to Salt Lake.

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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